Today, I’m very excited to bring you another wonderful short story from Laura Schmidt, creator of Voyage of the Mind. Visit Laura’s newly revamped website for more short fiction and poetry, as well as many great factual pieces on topics ranging from ancient history to social media trends. There is something to delight every inquisitive mind here, and I’m very proud to have Laura as a contributor to Experiments in Fiction.
Labor of Love
My mother used to cut my hair.
Cutting hair is a labor of love, you know. It’s a mark of negligence if you see a child whose hair is badly cut or, worse, looks like it’s not been cut at all for some time. Some people say you can tell a lot about someone by looking at their hands, but for me it’s all in the hair. Is it brushed? Washed? Is it dull? Shiny? Curled? Put up with bows? French-braided? The mother of a child with painstakingly combed hair might be painstakingly neat. Or she might be messy and trying to make up for it. Look at the hair. A child with disheveled hair has the stringy look of a stray dog, and a child like that, you worry about. At least I do. I don’t know about you.
I cut hair for a living. I tell myself it’s a labor of love. I take the bus to the train terminal and the train into the city every day and cut hair under the big salon lights. I’d never been to a salon until I started working at one. And I haven’t had a haircut since last April, when my mom died. I keep telling myself it’s time, but time never comes.
Today I’m working with Tod and Scarlet. I have a crush on Scarlet, which I don’t think is her real name. She worked as a stripper before she got into the haircutting business. Truth be told, she can’t cut hair to save her life, but the boss keeps her around because she appeals to the male clientele, not that the male clientele is large. My crush on her is no use, anyways. She’s as straight as a line. She has a boyfriend named Josh, actually he’s her fiancee. They’re getting married next August, and they’re gonna honeymoon at the Niagara Falls. Her choice, not his. She’s a talker. She’ll talk your ear off if you hang around to listen.
“Hey, El,” Tod says towards the end of the day. He’s not bad looking himself, but just my luck — he’s gay as all get-out. Can a girl catch any luck? I’m sexually frustrated. Sexually Frustrated, capital S, capital F. Tod fingers a lock of my hair. “You need a haircut.”
“I’m growing it out,” I say.
“Come on now,” he says, giving me a look. “You’ve been saying that since, what, Christmas?”
April, I think. But I don’t correct him. I don’t say that it’s not been cut since my mom cut it in early April, two weeks before she died. Funny thing is I didn’t see it coming. I guess that made it worse. She cut my hair in the hallway of my childhood home, me squinting into the mirror, door open, spring light slanting in. And two weeks later she died.
While I was going through her stuff, I found a box in her closet where she’d saved locks of hair. My hair. Tied carefully with string, these little locks of hair, and labeled with dates. May ‘95, when my hair was blonde. May ‘96, still blonde. April ‘97, light brown, July ‘98, slightly darker brown, June ‘99, all the way up through April ‘19, the last one. Dark brown, almost black. That box broke my fucking heart. I cried over it, and I don’t cry over much. Since then I’ve been letting my hair grow out. I’m proud of it. I keep it shiny.
A male customer comes in and requests me. This is rare for two reasons. One because it’s a male customer, and two because he hasn’t requested Scarlet. Maybe he can smell my sexual frustration. He asks for shampoo and conditioner and grunts appreciatively while I work it in. I resist the urge to dig my fingers through his skull. What’s that called again? Trepanation? He’s an asshole, that’s what he’s called. When I’ve finished the trim of all of five minutes with the #3 clipper guide, he tries to slip a fifty dollar bill into the top of my smock. When I jerk back he waves it in my face.
“How much for a happy ending, darlin’?”
Oh, fuck that. “Happy ending?” I ask, raising my voice. If my mother taught me anything, it was not to take shit from asshats like this one. “Why don’t you try the massage parlor down the road? I hear they got a special Christmas offer.”
“Bitch,” he hisses at me. He scrambles off the stool, his face as red as a bottle of TRESemmé Keratin Smooth, and runs for the door without paying.
I mope down to Tod’s station and plop myself down on the stool. Scarlet’s staring at me. I think that’s admiration on her face. Or maybe it’s disbelief. I don’t really know. Tod comes up behind me and runs his hands through my hair. I get goosebumps. It’s been long enough, I decide. I deserve a labor of love.
“Men are asshats, aren’t they?” he whispers in my ear.
“Sure are. Can you make me appealing to the female variety?” I ask him, knowing that it’s something my mother never would’ve forgiven me for.
He eyes me critically in the mirror, then lifts my hair off the back of my neck. “These beautiful locks will have to go, my dear.” I steel myself. “Fine. Scythe them.”
If you liked this, you’ll love:
- Laura’s first contribution to this site: Elegy.
- Another short fiction with a hairdressing theme: Blow-ins by Nick Reeves.
If you would like to contribute to Experiments in Fiction, please email submissions to me at Experimentsinfiction@protonmail.com. I am currently accepting submissions of flash fiction and short fiction (up to 1,500 words, on any subject.)